RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — A New York prosecutor said a misdemeanor DWI charge remains in effect "at this time" for the pickup truck driver who police say slammed into a limousine in Long Island wine country, leaving four women dead and four others injured, even though his blood-alcohol reading was below the legal limit.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said Friday that a lab report revealed the driver, Steven Romeo, had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.066, below the legal standard of 0.08 for a driving while intoxicated charge. The prosecutor said Romeo's blood was taken one hour and 40 minutes after the fatal crash on July 18.
Spota said toxicologists have indicated Romeo's blood-alcohol level "was most likely over 0.08" at the time of the crash, but that the investigation remains ongoing and no final determination has been made on whether to proceed with a DWI prosecution. He said he is still awaiting the results of drug tests, as well as an accident reconstruction report to determine the speed of the pickup truck and other factors.
Spota also said none of the surviving women involved in the crash have been interviewed by authorities yet.
Eight friends were in a limousine after a day touring eastern Long Island's wine country when the vehicle was slammed by a pickup truck while making a U-turn at an intersection along Route 48 in Cutchogue (kuht-CHAWG'). Police said a pickup truck driven by Romeo broadsided the car. Three of the injured women remain hospitalized, as does Romeo, Spota said Friday.
Romeo, a 55-year-old businessman from Southold, has pleaded not guilty. Bail was initially set at $500,000 but was reduced Thursday to $50,000, in part because of the revelations about his blood-alcohol level, Spota said.
One of his lawyers, Dan O'Brien, said in a statement Friday that Romeo "is devastated by the loss of those lives and the injuries sustained," but insisted that his client was not drunk at the time of the crash, nor did he cause the accident.
Authorities have said that Romeo was making a legal U-turn at the intersection. Southold town Police Chief Martin Flately has said limousine drivers are ticketed about a dozen times a month for backing into the intersection on the four-lane roadway while maneuvering the turn, but the limousine driver involved in the fatal crash was not issued a summons. Spota said authorities have checked whether the limousine was in drive or reverse gear at the time of the crash, but he declined to disclose their findings.
He also defended that it took one hour and 40 minutes to draw Romeo's blood after the accident.
"This time factor is not unusual when lifesaving rescue operations obviously take priority," Spota said. He added there have been "many cases where blood was taken even longer than that in time, so it's not unusual."